Solomon Islands: Cruising during Cyclone Season
Australians Darren & Peita Lack spent the 2013 Cyclone Season in the Solomons aboard their motor yacht Waverley (Oct 2013 – Apr 2014). This was their 2nd Cyclone Season in the area.
Published 9 years ago, updated 1 year ago
Having recently arrived back on the east coast of Australia, after spending the 2013 cyclone season in the Solomon Islands, I was surprised at the small number of other cruising vessels we encountered in comparison to when we last cruised the area in 2000.
We arrived in Gizo in October & we only came across 10 other cruising yachts during the entire time – all of which were ‘high tailing’ it up to Micronesia for the pending cyclone season. The general consensus of the vast majority we spoke to, was that it was ‘safer’ up there in terms of safety from tropical cyclones, but almost all of them said they definitely would have liked to have stayed and seen more of the Solomons.
Now, after spending two cyclone seasons in the Solomons (one being a very active season), I was a little surprised by the skepticism of the Solomons as a safe place to spend cyclone season and decided to let other cruisers know about this viable alternative.
Also, given the unreliable winds at this time of the year, sailing the 860 odd nautical miles to Pohnpei in Micronesia from the Solomons seemed like a long way to go. The passage reports we heard from yachts on HF radio skeds confirmed this, with more than one yacht finding so little wind that they had to return to the Solomons to take on more fuel and have a second go at it.
So, I’m just saying, if you find yourself in the SW Pacific looking for somewhere to cruise and want to have the ability to sit out the cyclone season safely above 10 degrees south latitude, consider the Solomons. It’s still quite remote, truly beautiful with good cyclone holes and great people.
What we didn’t realize and stumbled across, was a little known safe haven called Liapari, where a cruising boat can not only safely sit out the weather associated with a tropical cyclone in the Coral Sea as we did , but also have all the facilities to repair and haul out your vessel in a safe and secure area, where the proprietor is a good bloke to boot.
Liapari is situated on the south-eastern extreme of Vella Lavella Island in the Western province of the Solomons. Although the paper charts for the area are poor, the google earth images used in conjunction with Open CPN or Maxsea are fantastic.
The harbour at Liapari is created by the natural lee of Vella Levalla, Liapari Island and the fringing reef and islets to the East. We sat here safely at anchor in more than one decent blow as a cyclone passed nearby and the holding was very good and the anchorage comfortable. The google earth image clearly shows the only shallow spot, which is the man-made cutting on the inner reef which carriers around 3.0 metres at LW and there is no sea or swell at the cutting because you are well inside the main reef.
The Liapari facility has two slipways, a well setup engineering shop, a timber workshop and welding facilities. There is a choice of anchoring in the harbour or Mediterranean style mooring for a small fee with a clean and tidy wharf, beautiful lawns and grounds and a laundry right at your stern. There is an open-air bar at ‘the roundhouse’ and plans for a new three-story bar and restaurant with great swimming, snorkeling and bushwalking ashore.
The proprietor Noel, his wife Rosie and Leah their dog, run a very efficient operation with local staff and having carried out work at the premises myself, I can attest to the fact that ‘they do what they say they will do’ and for a very reasonable price. Noel has 30 plus years in the islands and with his ‘hands-on’ engineering background, there is not much that cannot be done here to get any cruising vessel out of trouble.
We used Liapari as our cruising base for the whole of the Solomons and there were half a dozen yachts on long term layup ($10AUD/day) at Noel’s facility where he looks after your vessel for very minimal cost and security is provided.
As for the logistics in this part of the Solomons, good clean fuel is available in large quantities only 40nm away at Noro, where we took on 3000 litres at similar prices to Australia. For smaller quantities, you can buy from drums in Gizo or speak to Noel about availability at Liapari.
LPG refills and tender fuel can be sourced at Liapari or at Gizo where you will also find daily markets and a variety of trade stores where most things can be purchased once you know where to go. There is an ANZ bank with an ATM and Telekom shop for phone and data cards so you just throw it into your phone and you have cheap communications.
Gizo is 13 nm from Liapari and we cleared in and out here without problems and stayed for six months. The whole area around Gizo has great diving, fishing and surfing nearby and branches out into the whole Western Province which is well worth exploring. There are also some small resorts nearby like Sanbis, where you’ll get a great pizza and a wreck dive just off the bar, Fatboys resort just a little further down the road opposite Kennedy Island where JFK came ashore and then Lola in the Vona Vona Lagoon.
There are two Daily flights (morning and afternoon) from Honiara to Gizo and if you’re at Liapari, Noel has a fast longboat and can provide a transfer service to and from Liapari – so for people leaving the yacht or for guests coming in its very convenient.
If you want to enjoy the Solomons but can’t spare the time, think about leaving your boat at Liapari and flying in and out. Catch up with Noel and while you’re there, go and have a pizza at Sanbis resort – its got to be the best I’ve tasted anywhere in the Pacific!
The fishing in most of the Solomons is exceptional and we caught marlin, wahoo, Spanish mackerel, tuna, coral trout and many more. The locals will happily trade for painted crayfish and reef fish for basic supplies like sugar and rice or kids clothing.
As fas as cyclone holes go, there are numerous other anchorages away from Liapari offering sufficient shelter and holding in the weather associated with passing cyclones. As a professional master, I would not hesitate to select the Solomons for a cyclone season in a well-found vessel, adequately equipped with good ground tackle and some basic communications for early detection of pending cyclones to make sure you are in a good anchorage when the worst of the weather comes in.
A word of caution though, the Solomons is quite remote when compared to many other cruising destinations in the Pacific like Fiji or Noumea for instance. For this reason, it pays for the cruising yacht to be well equipped in way of spares and essentials that may not be readily available here.
Don’t go to the Solomons without getting a hold of Dirk Sielings ‘Solomon Islands Cruising Guide’ published in conjunction with the Islands Cruising Association. We met Dirk on our first trip to the Solomons and his guide, although quite old now, is still a fantastic source of information for anchorages (although we found some GPS coordinates were not to be relied upon).
Darren & Peita Lack
Motor Yacht Waverley
Related to the following Cruising Resources: Hurricanes and Tropical Cyclones, Off the Beaten Path, Pacific Ocean West, Routing, Weather
Excellent article. Thank you so much. We don’t want to come back to NZ for cyclone season 2019, but also do not fancy the Marshall Islands much. We had considered the Solomons and this has reassured us that they may well be a very viable option for cyclone season. Thank you
Contact me for electronic cruising guide for Solomon Island and PNG. [email protected]